Saturday, September 28, 2013

Telling Stories through Scent

During the past three weeks in Morocco, my sense of smell has been exposed to a variety of new scents--some of them that have made me want to crinkle up my nose and others that I have wanted to inhale more deeply. When a friend from back home posed the question "What does Morocco smell like?" I felt inspired to reflect on aromas I've experienced--the good, the bad, and the ugly-- and examine how they mirror the lifestyle of my new Moroccan family and friends.

Scent: Spices
Story: The most common spices in Moroccan cooking are cumin, paprika, saffron, fenugreek, and cinnamon. On the street, especially in the Medina or at the souk, the smell of these spices wafts into the air. At home, the aroma of spices signals an upcoming (and undoubtedly delicious) meal. Rfisa is one of my favorite dishes here and is flavored using fenugreek. In December, I'm going to have the opportunity to learn more about these spices through Global Citizen, a class I take at AMIDEAST.
Scent: Trash
Story: I don't want to give a wrong impression and say that the odor of trash is ubiquitous in Morocco, but when walking down the street, it's not uncommon to see piles of garbage laying on the pavement. Often, cats are picking through the garbage, looking for left over scraps. Waste disposal is very different here, and recycling does not seem to exist. However, Moroccans conserve in other ways--my host family saves all their plastic bags and some disposable containers for repeated use. 

Scent: Sea
Story: Rabat is located on the Atlantic ocean. Thus, the smell of sea salt replaces that of car fumes on the streets close to the ocean and at the beach. I love this smell--and the ocean itself. This morning, as I ran next to the ocean with my friend, I thought of my family and friends on the other side of the tide. It comforts me to know that the sea smells the same no matter what side of the ocean I'm on. 

Scent: Bread
Story: Each day, as Moroccan families gather around around tables in homes and restaurants to share any variety of delicious Moroccan cuisine, one thing sits on all of their tables: bread. I can't think of the last meal I ate where bread wasn't involved in some form. In many homes, bread replaces utensils as a way to move food from the communal plate to the mouth. This morning, my host mother made bread in our kitchen, but some neighborhoods have communal ovens as not everyone has an oven here. Every hanoot (corner shop) is stocked with a huge basket of bread and carts heaped with khobz (bread in Darija) traverse the streets in order to ensure that bread is accessible at all times and in all places. It's not uncommon to see a bag of stale bread hung on tree or lamp post, waiting to be eaten by a hungry person or animal. This national infatuation with bread means that it's always baking somewhere and filling the air with its warm aroma. 
Just one type of bread here! 

Scent: Rose Water
Story: Out of perfume? Spritz yourself with rose water. Feeling a little under the weather? A dash of rose water can fix that. Itchy mosquito bite? Rose water will help. Not only does rose water have a subtle (but wonderful scent), it is said to have medicinal properties as well. I love the bottle of rose water my coordinator, Sarah, gave me when I first arrived in Morocco, and I'm going to have to buy some more in the Medina before too long. 

Scent: Cigarette smoke
Story: The smell of cigarette is all too familiar here in Morocco. As I walk through Rabat, I see cafes full of men, drinking coffee and smoking, an indication of a popular past time--cafe sitting. While some cafes serve a majority male clientele, there are plenty of cafes where I feel comfortable going with friends to waste a couple hours away. In the past weeks, we've scoped out the best cafes--based on location, price, and for me, ratio of cigarette smoke to breathable air. 

Scent: Mint tea
Story: Thé (French) or achai (Darija) is served in Morocco homes to welcome guests or to simply relax after a long day. I've often heard Moroccans refer to mint tea as "Moroccan tea." Mint tea is served sweet, with jooj (two) or khremsah (three) sugar cubes. My host family generously showed me the process of making mint tea, using a bundle of mint that can be bought in the Medina for 12.5 cents. I'm a big fan of the tea here, and I'm hoping to bring home a tea set to share it with my friends and family back home. 

The scents of spices, trash, the sea, bread, cigarette smoke, and mint tea combine into the aroma of my new home. It took a good amount of thought to identify each scent, as part of experiencing these scents is taking them in all at once--un mélange, as they say in French. I'm so lucky to be able to take in this mixture each day, and since my readers are not beside me in this journey, I'm trying my best to take it all in and share it with you. If there's anything you're curious about, n'hesitez pas (don't hesitate) to contact me. 

With love from Rabat! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Classrooms and Cahiers

When my alarm went off at 6:30 A.M. last Wednesday, I felt a magnified version of my usual first day of school emotions-- a mix of dread, nervousness, and excitement. And even though I woke up 4,000 miles from the home where I usually take my first day of school picture, I didn't neglect to ask my host family to snap a photo of me in front of the door before I headed off to start my junior year. Instead of catching the school bus from my quiet corner of suburbia, I held out my arm on a road rushing with traffic and hailed a taxi. After arriving at school, the administrators told us that we did not actually have to be there until 10 A.M. My Moroccan counterparts seemed un-phased by this unexpected change, and so I headed off to a cafe to mourn my lost sleep and channel my flexibility. School did start later that day, and the past few days of learning in French have become a blur in my mind.

Undoubtedly, certain parts of my day are different--I am with the same group of 13 students all day and the teachers come to our classroom. Our teachers didn't spend any time on get to know you games, barely pausing to ask our names. The lessons themselves are very lecture based, but I'm able to understand almost everything that's going on. Here, books are bought instead of borrowed from school. Also, notebook paper is different here:

For some reason, all the little lines on the pages of my cahiers (French word for notebooks) really bothered me at first. I've adjusted to it right now, but I'll never take a college ruled piece of paper for granted again. In addition, our school has three basic rules--no chewing gum, no baboosh (traditional Moroccan slippers), and no cell phones (if cell phones are seen, they are confiscated for a month). 

Despite these differences, many similarities have shone through  Students definitely have their groups and stick with them, and this is no different from school back home. My classmates are eager to succeed and motivated to pass the Bac, an exam that will determine what universities they can attend and what they can study upon arrival. Many of them aim to study in France, Canada, or the United States, and just like students in the States, they're stressed out about standardized tests and college applications. My first impression of my peers is that they are well dressed, confident, and comfortable in their school environment. I look forward to getting to know them better throughout the year!

My school!

I already love my schedule for this year. On certain days, I don't have to come into school until 10 o'clock and on others, I don't have to return after lunch. No matter what, I have a two hour lunch break. Here's a few pictures of what I've been up to in my spare time:

National Library!

Jazz concert at Chellah, a roman ruin!

Marjan (a 3 four Cosco like store with everything you'll ever need. Including a parking garage, 3 restaurants, and an abundance of homegoods, food, and clothing)


I'm adjusting to life here and my daily routine already feels familiar. I'm still confused a good portion of my time because of cultural and lingual differences, but I'm learning how to navigate my life here. I know how much a taxi to school should cost, where I can get a cheap coffee, what time it is when I hear the call to prayer, and how to unlock the door to my host family's apartment. In the grand scheme of this year, these are small successes, but right now, they feel huge. I'm learning to take my life day by day, and I realized that I'm not worrying about my future so much. For now, the present is fulfilling--and challenging--enough. My days thus far have been rewarding in that they haven't all been glamorous adventures across a foreign country, but because they have been meaningful to me because of the small successes. I feel a sense of purpose here, and at this point, I'm loving my exchange. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Little Things

I thought I'd make a list of observations, little things that surprised me at first about Morocco, because it's fun to appreciate the small differences. 

1. Cats are everywhere and I've only seen one dog in the neighborhood
2. Cafe culture--going to a cafe is an implied part of running errands, going out with friends, etc. 
3. Dinner is served very late at night and Moroccan families seem to stay awake until all hours and nap frequently. 
4. There isn't a standard system for sidewalks, this they are liable to drop off/slope at random moments. Also people park on sidewalks here. 
5. Each street has at least one if not more hanoots. Hanoots are tiny stores, typically with just one room, and they are filled to the brim with snacks, drinks, and other on the go goods. 
6. Moroccan sofas are different at least in my home. It's a bench of sorts with a thick cushion and pillows to sit against.
7. The TV is almost always on. If it's not someone is probably going to turn it on momentarily. But conversation still flows despite the TV. 
8. In my family, we wear flip flops on tile and no shoes on carpet. It's not a big deal if I forget but I've noticed that's what my family does.
9. Windows don't have screens here. 
10. The McDonalds is the cool place to hang out and it's much nicer here than back home (at least when compared to the McDonalds in my town). They sell a McBaguette and some different items, and all the food is Halal. McDonalds smells the same though--some things never change. 
With love from Rabat! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Yallah Bina

I thought I would wait until Friday to blog, but this week has been too "wicked" not to share it all you all. On Tuesday, my host mother walked me to Amideast, and I spent the day with the other YES Abroad students, our coordinator, and two Moroccan students. The Moroccan students showed us around Agdal and welcomed us to their home, and I greatly appreciated their openness to drop everything and spend time with us. Together, we went to Chellah and Oudayas. Chellah is an old Roman ruin nestled into the hillside and the quiet air felt unhurried when compared to the rushing streets of Agdal.

From their we went to Oudayas, a more traditional area where all the homes are blue and white.

 When I saw the postcard-like views of my new city, it set in that this beautiful place is my home for the next year, and I realized I should seize every moment to explore. I fulfilled that goal today. After class at Amideast and lunch with my host family, I set out to meet the other students, in the hopes of orienting ourselves. We ended up walking to our school and by chance, met one of the administrators who offered us water and food for thought during our hour long conversation and tour of the school. Our school used to be a villa, and while it is spacious for a house, it makes for a much smaller school than mine in the United States. After a quick stop for ice cream in Agdal, we rode in a taxi to the beach and walked around. The views were stunning, both of the Atlantic ocean and of Rabat. From our perch, we could see Sale, Rabat's neighbor city, the walls of Oudayas, and a hillside filled with graves. People crowded the beach, and as our visit was impromptu, we did not swim. Hopefully next time!

The taxi ride home did not take long, nor did the driver neglect to lay on his horn from time to time. If driving in Morocco was a disease, the easiest remedy would be applying the horn liberally. However, this cure is not permanent, and after awhile, exacerbates the situation (and also any headache you may have). But I love it. I'm definitely in the 'honeymoon' stage of my exchange, where almost everything I see excites me. One of the most exciting aspects, for me, is being able to move around the city so easily. There are two types of taxis, grande and petite, the tram, and of course, your feet, and by using one or more of these methods, you can be anywhere you want in a matter of minutes. I love that if there's something I want to see or do, I can say "Yallah bina" and be off on an adventure. "Yallah bina" means "let's go" or "Allons-y," in Darija. This word has been my motto for the past few days, and I hope to hold it close to my heart in the coming days as well. "Yallah bina" summarizes the meaning of these past few days. They have been filled with serendipitous exploration--of Rabat, of my French vocabulary (when I don't know the words to say), and of my own abilities. Until next time, yallah bina!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Au Maroc

I made it to Morocco! As our plane crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, I peered across my neighbors to see a glimpse of my new home. By the time we finally landed in Casablanca, darkness had already set in. And although we couldn't see all the buildings or streets as our tiny bus wove through the crazy world of Moroccan driving, some thing were undoubtedly already different. Palm trees lined the roads and young men on motorcycles shot through the lanes of traffic. Others had hitched free rides on the back of buses. I quickly fell asleep but awoke as we entered Rabat! One thing I noticed right away is the variety of clothing--women in djellabas and caftans as well as miniskirts and skinny jeans and everything in between. The language mirrors the diversity of clothing. From the start of our Royal Air Maroc flight, all the announcements had to be made in 3 languages! I am spending the day with our coordinator Sarah (who very sweetly left us a package of goodies in our hotel room) before moving in with my family tonight. It's so great to be here and actually see what I have dreamed of for so long! Here's a picture out my window sorry its bad quality!